A DRAFT of Different Tracts of Land in Luzerne County, State of Pennsylvania. Surveyed for the Honourable [sic] James Wilson, Esqr. & Henry Drinker, Esqr. John Adlum, James Chapman.
Rare 1790's Land Fever Survey Signed by John Adlum

A DRAFT of Different Tracts of Land in Luzerne County, State of Pennsylvania. Surveyed for the Honourable [sic] James Wilson, Esqr. & Henry Drinker, Esqr

no place cited but likely Sunbury, Pa. John Adlum & James Chapman, 1796-7. Pen,ink and watercolor on 2 joined folio sheets of laid paper bearing Whatman watermarks, dissected into 10 panels and backed on contemporary linen, 24.5” x 34.5”. Light damp stains, slight paper loss and age toning along folds, very good overall. Item #100234

Signatory of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court Justice appointed by George Washington and twice member of the Continental Congress James Wilson, along with wealthy Philadelphia merchant Henry Drinker engage in land speculation in Northern Pennsylvania in the 1790’s. Speculation in the infant Republic’s “Back Lands” at the time was a scheme initially hatched by Robert Morris “Financier of the Revolutionary War” whereby deeds to lands intended as farm land to promote settlement where acquired in contiguous tracts of prime value and offered as investment shares to wealthy European interests through Morris’ North American Land Company and others.
As Morris’ attorney and director of Morris’ North American Bank, James Wilson became heavily involved in land speculation along with other prominent men including John Adlum, Henry Drinker, John Nicholson, William Bingham, and Samuel Wallis. Adlum, Nicholson and Wallis, as Pennsylvania District Surveyors, were wholly suited to survey and provide land valuation with the cooperation of an elaborate network of local agents.
Wilson’s involvement in land speculation became a virtual obsession and is best described by none other than Henry Drinker who claimed in 1794 that Wilson himself – “in his exalted station” – was going into land offices to search out defects in the land titles of competing speculators. At the time of their deaths Samuel Wallis and James Wilson alone held title to 1.2 million acres of land in six Pennsylvania districts alone. Each were heavily indebted to none other than John Adlum.
The map shows 100,659 acres divided exclusive of 28,000 acres titled to Charles Carrol [of Carrolton] and about 13,000+ acres untitled parcels totaling approximately 200 square miles of land lying in present day Bradford (1812) and Tioga (1804) Counties Pennsylvania, west of the East Branch of the Susquehanna river and north from Sugar Creek to the New York state border. These lands appear on John Adlum & Samuel Wallis’ 1791 ‘Map Exhibiting a General View of the Roads and Inland Navigation of Pennsylvania’ without the topographic and improvement detail shown here. The “Course of Capt. Williams’ Road shown here along Tioga River appears to mirror a road shown on the Adlum &Wallis map where it extends from Muncy Farm to NYS border. Stream and river course are drawn in exacting detail as are the bounds and benchmarks of each tract.

Signed and dated statements by both Adlum and Chapman provide a poignant description of the lands surveyed:

“This doth certify that I am well acquainted with the greater part of the lands situate on the heads of Sugar Creek the South Branch of Tyoga and Towanda Creeks surveyed in the names of Meirs Fischer and Henry Drinker. They are of a strong rich chocolate colour suitable for either grain or grass, they are timbered with birch, sugar maple……..I surveyed a considerable quantity of the above described land myself & believe there is not one of the tracts surveyed in Drinker’s or Fischer’s names that consist of.. [illegible at fold]..the greater part of the twenty-five thousand acres but will make from three to five farms if divided, so as to give a proportion of meadow & upland & occupied by industrious farmers. As to the remainder I am not sufficiently acquainted with to say any thing respecting them, than having been surveyed under the direction of James Chapman whom I have always understood to be a man of integrity & truth”.

Philadelphia 9th March, 1797

John Adlum.

James Chapman -

“In the summer of 1792 I was employed by the Honce, James Wilson Esquire to go up the Susquehannah into the last purchase to locate and Superintend the Surveying of a large body of lands, I was engaged in his employ from sometime in may Till About the Middle of December locating and attending to the surveying of lands for him, on the waters of Sugar Creek, the branches of the South branch of Tioga River and waters of the Towanda Str, forty of the Warrants, one thousand acres each, committed to my care were in the name of Meirs Fischer being the first tenants next after the lottery warrants taken out of the land office were located by me , and surveyed under the direction of Mr. John Adlum he then Deputy of that district Agreeable to my location…….Not having my field notes to Adjust to cannot be so explicit in describing those lands in every part but from recollection I can ~ I believe verify & recommend them to be lands of first Quality and the best body of back lands I have ever met with”.

Given under my hand at Phila.
28th Sept. 1796

Jas. Chapman

Both Robert Morris and James Wilson died bankrupt as a result of their speculation in land. John Adlum however avoided the same fate, having distanced himself from speculation and removing from Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. in 1798.

We have only been able to locate a handful of similar manuscript maps attributed to John Adlum, all of which are housed at the Library of Congress.

Provenance: Papers of Isaac Chapman(1783-?)

Ref: Wilkinson “Philadelphia Fever in Northern Pennsylvania” pp.41-56; “James Wilson Papers” pp.11-20; Evans “Holland Land Company” pp. 109-10.

See all items by ,